Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect,
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
By virtue of their creation men and women are intended by God to be the compliment of each other, not only in the order of biological procreation but in the various aspects of human life. None of this is new to Christians, who have known it since the time of Christ-it is unlikely, though, that those who are not Christians and who have not been able to understand it by the light of natural human reason will be convinced by Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter. In general terms, the cardinal attempts to parse the Scriptures in order to demonstrate this complimentarity-but those who are not believers will find biblical authority uncompelling-and many who are believers will find his attempt unconvincing even though unnecessary.
The biblical analysis is logical enough in dealing with the creation of man, and in describing the complimentary roles of Jesus and Mary in the work of salvation. But even in this, the figure of wine, a woman, and a wedding with humanity on the Cross (10) seems more like contrived imagery than theology. And this sort of imagery looses its strength when it tries to demonstrate the role of human gender (because Jerusalem is feminine, “a bride adorned for her husband”) in heavenly eternity (12) as described in the “Book of Revelation” [sic]. There is a strong element of wishful thinking in the claim that spouses are “drawn in the Paschal mystery” and are thereby “able to avoid elements of concupiscence ... as well as subjugation ... in their relationship (11).
Not surprisingly in a letter that appeals to the complimentary nature of man and woman in their very beings, the treatment of religious celibacy suffers. Having expended Matthew 19 in favor of “faithfulness over weakness” (11), the Cardinal is wise enough not to invoke the same passage as a call to abstinence from marriage. Instead he appeals to a non-existent “Old Testament tradition” of virginity (13), and tries to frame celibacy as a prefiguring of his “gender in heaven” (because Jerusalem is feminine) imagery.
The letter is badly damaged by Ratzinger’s attempt to work just about every known Vatican II cliché into text. One gets the impression of a “swan song” for the current pontificate; a last ditch effort to keep Modernist terminology in everyone’s mind. There is “alienation” and “subjugation” and “dialogue” and “Paschal mystery” and “theology of the body” and the usual grocery list of things that society “ought-to-do,” without any indication of just how they might be possible in reality and morality (13). Somehow, society “ought-to” enable women to be both mothers and career-holders “without relinquishing family life or enduring continual stress,” through some unspecified change of “law, economics, organization ... mentality, culture, and respect.” Perhaps bilocation will be addressed in a future letter! A few words on the immorality of birth control were conspicuously missing.
In normal times, people look to the Church as an expert in divinity. The letter’s most outrageous Vatican II-ism comes right in the first paragraph with the phrase used by Pope Paul VI and echoed by Pope John Paul II, claiming that “the Church [is an] expert in humanity.” To make such a boastful claim, particularly in a letter dealing with “gender” and “sexuality,” is the “howler” of the century. Except for the few cases where the aberrant sexuality of its priests has brought legal action by civil authorities (with a consequent outflow of money), the Vatican has remained oblivious to its own internal problems of gender and sexuality. Coming to grips with those problems would go a long way toward restoring the credibility of the Church; maybe, even, towards restoring the family life of Christians-certainly it will do more than promoting the guilty “experts” to posh rectorships of the Roman basilicas, or producing long lists of utopian ought-to-do’s.